Northern Wilds Magazine
Located in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace in downtown Duluth, Northern Waters Smokehaus has been operating out of the same storefront for more than 20 years. | NORTHERN WATERS SMOKEHAUS
North Shore Dish

A Fishy Legacy: Smoked Fish

Last month I had the privilege of going smelt fishing on Lake Superior. Smelt are small trout-like fish, that spawn in the shallow waters of lakes, rivers, and streams each spring. Female smelt “broadcast” their eggs in the shallow water, and once fertilized, they become sticky and adhere to the sand or gravel below. Most of the spawning smelt die afterwards.

Intriguingly, smelt are not native to the waters of the Great Lakes. They were introduced into Crystal Lake in Michigan in 1912. Crystal Lake drains into Lake Michigan, which is, of course, connected to all the other Great Lakes, and so began the legacy of smelting in Lake Superior.

You don’t catch smelt in a traditional hook-and-line way, out on the still water with the sun peeking over the horizon… No, nothing so romantic. You catch smelt by wading into the cold waters of Lake Superior in the middle of the night with a net. As schools of fish come in to spawn, smelters don their waders, grab their nets, and try to catch the fish before they turn around and head right back out to deeper waters. Some fishermen use a long net, which they walk, chest deep, across the shoreline and sweep back in to shore to their friends waiting with buckets and headlamps. Others find the mouth of a river and watch the icy water with dip nets at the ready to scoop the fish as they come by.

The smelt run is an extremely short season that is dictated by water temperatures, and thus cannot be planned for in the way that other fishing seasons are, but fishing on Lake Superior has a long and storied history. There are still commercial fisherman who manage to carve out a living on Lake Superior, bringing us whitefish, herring, and lake trout from the depths of Gitche Gumee, which we can then find served in local restaurants and smokehouses along the shore.

Specifically, the Northland has the unique vantage point of being situated alongside the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, and third largest by volume. That’s a lot of space to be home to a variety of fish, and throughout the years smokehouses have popped up along the shore and added to the legacy of fishing on the North Shore. Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth holds onto their award-winning legacy, schlepping smoked meats and sandwiches for more than 20 years.

This renowned smokehouse and sandwich shop has been using the same brines and smoking schedules as they did when they first began. | NORTHERN WATERS SMOKEHAUS

Northern Waters Smokehaus, Duluth

Northern Waters Smokehaus is located in Duluth’s bustling downtown in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, just a stone’s throw from the Aerial Lift Bridge. Northern Waters Smokehaus has been operating out of the same storefront for more than 20 years, delighting customers all the while. What once began as an informally organized hidden gem on the great Gitche Gumee has become a renowned smokehouse and sandwich shop, earning a slot on Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives, a mention in Bon Appetit magazine, and winning their category at Seattle’s Festa Italiana salami challenge for their dry-cured Salamini.

Growth and expansion have forced Northern Waters to actually maintain office space, and their smoking operation has moved onsite. They maintain their dedication to excellence in their craft, because Northern Waters Smokehaus believes the creation of their food is more than a job—it’s a craft. Using the same brines and smoking schedules as they did when they began, consistency and reliance on the process is their key to success.

Northern Waters Smokehaus cases are filled with both farmed and wild-caught fish, as well as a variety of sausages, deli meats, and more. Wild-caught fish are sourced from local commercial fisherman, and farmed fish are purchased from companies with Best Aquaculture Practices certifications. All smoked meats are celiac-friendly, and if you happen to be in store looking for the immediate satisfaction of a Smokehaus sandwich, they have a gluten-free bread option as well.

If you aren’t local, but you’re located in the United States, Northern Waters Smokehaus has been shipping their food for almost as long as they’ve been in operation, and the variety available is endless. From sandwich kits, to turkey breast, bacon, ham, salmon, sauerkraut, and even the crackers to serve your delicious treats on, Northern Waters Smokehaus foods are accessible to anyone within the U.S.

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